The GM’s View: Keys to Vikings Beating Ravens in Swing Game

Vikings Ravens Matchup
Jan 26, 2020; Orlando, Florida, USA; AFC quarterback Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens (8) throws the ball under pressure from NFC defensive end Everson Griffen of the Minnesota Vikings (97) in the 2020 NFL Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings Insider, The GM’s View

The Vikings season is at a crossroads over the next few weeks, beginning with another swing game at Baltimore Sunday.

Find a way to win, and the Purple are back to .500 at 4-4 and possibly holding the final NFC playoff spot if the Patriots beat the Panthers as expected. If the Vikings fall to Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, they’ll sit at 3-5 with a tough couple weeks ahead at the Chargers and hosting the Packers before another tough road game at the 49ers.

The 5-2 Ravens are coming off their bye that followed a surprising 41-17 thrashing at the hands of the Bengals. They have a narrow lead in the AFC North over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, plus several close wins, including over Detroit on an NFL record 66-yard field goal by Justin Tucker. And there were exciting comeback wins over the Chiefs and Colts where Jackson flashed his MVP form.

But the Bengals showed that Baltimore could be beaten with a prolific passing attack as Joe Burrow threw for 416 yards and three touchdowns, while Ja’Marr Chase had eight receptions for 201 yards and one touchdown.

Here are my keys to the Vikings beating the Ravens in what should be a high scoring game:
1. Offensively, get back to what worked in Carolina in Week 6 when Minnesota had 571 yards total offense, running and throwing it well against a good defense. The Vikings wide receivers were targeted 37 times (Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn combined for 25 catches for 284 yards and 2 TDs).

Compare that to the Dallas game when that trio had a total of 16 targets, 10 catches, and 109 yards. This was due to Cousins’ excessive checkdowns to the backs and tight ends as he felt the heat from the Cowboys pass rush even when there was time to throw. Skittish Kirk must be replaced by the return of confident Kirk, and the offensive line must be better against an aggressive Ravens pass rush.

Center Garrett Bradbury has landed on the Covid list, so it appears he’s out for the Vikings game against the Ravens. I’d love to see third-rounder Wyatt Davis get a shot at center, but vet Mason Cole likely will start. Davis was last year’s Big Ten lineman of the year and is more stout than Bradbury, so it would be interesting to see him in action.

As for the line overall, blocking vet stalwarts Calais Campbell and Justin Houston on the edges will be critical, along with handling an impactful linebacker in Patrick Queen. The Bengals did help their offensive line with backs and tight ends staying in often to max protect.

Cousins needs to take more chances and give Jefferson and Thielen opportunities to make contested catches, especially in single coverage. Give Jefferson a chance to do what his former LSU teammate, Chase, did in repeatedly beating Ravens corner Marlon Humphrey.

And get the ball to Vikings tight end Tyler Conklin, as the Ravens were torched by K.C.’s Travis Kelce and Cincinnati’s C.J. Uzomah.  Cousins has only thrown two interceptions this season, which is a nice stat, but perhaps that means he’s being overly cautious at times. 

Memo to Vikings offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak: the Ravens are dead last in the league in pass defense and were severely beaten on first-down throws by Burrow (10 of 14 for 192 yards and 2 TDs). Yes, Dalvin Cook always must get his touches rushing and receiving, but Baltimore is better in run defense (fourth-ranked, in part because teams are throwing more against them). Playing conservative is not the formula to beat Baltimore or really any NFL team as the Dallas fiasco proved.  

2. Defensivel — yikes. No Danielle Hunter spells big trouble for the Vikings pass rush, a unit that leads the league in sacks per game (3.4). Hunter was their best pass rusher and best chance to contain Jackson. Batten down the hatches as much as possible against the NFL’s No. 3 offense led by Jackson, who has had some monster games this season (including 442 passing yards and 62 rushing yards in the OT win over the Colts).

Mike Zimmer and his defensive coaches will try to copy what Cincinnati did in limiting Jackson to 257 passing yards, which was by applying pressure, especially from the defensive end spots (5 total sacks and 3.5 from the DEs). Jackson has been sacked 21 times in seven games this season, so the Ravens’ pass protection isn’t great.

Vikings defensive end D.J. Wonnum must step up his play in Hunter’s spot. It will be a huge test for linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr to contain Jackson’s elite scrambling ability (he is the Ravens leading rusher with 480 yards).

Jackson throws to some talented receivers, including a top tight end in Mark Andrews and his wide receiver trio of Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, and former Gopher Rashod Bateman. If Jackson has time, I don’t like this matchup with the Vikings secondary still missing their best corner in Patrick Peterson.

3. On special teams, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh is a former special teams coach, and his team always excels in this area. He has the league’s best kicker in Tucker (14 of 15 field goals this season), who has the edge over the Vikings’ up and down kicker Greg Joseph.

Jeff’s Prediction:

I think the Vikings offense will score more points and be better in the red zone this week (a point of emphasis from Coach Mike Zimmer). I see the Vikings keeping it close but ultimately falling short in a high-scoring game as Jackson, and his receiving corps will make the big plays late to get the win. I hope I’m wrong, but I’ll call it 34-27 Ravens over the Vikings.

Around the NFL Observations:
1. What an awful story involving Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs who is charged with DWI resulting in death after he reportedly was driving 156 miles per hour when his car hit and killed a 23-year-old woman and her dog. I’m sure every coach in every sport in America is using the Ruggs case as an example to their players of terrible decision-making and disastrous results. 

2. Aaron Rodgers tests positive: the Packers QB lied when he told the media he was “immunized,” and now he’s landed on the COVID list due to his unvaccinated status. Jordan Love will start in K.C., and if he plays well, it could give the Packers more confidence if they decide to let Rodgers leave after this season.

3. Adrian Peterson to Titans: this could be a good fit for the former Vikings star as he has been signed by Tennessee to help replace superstar runner Derrick Henry. The 36-year-old Peterson will run behind one of the league’s best lines, so it will be interesting to see how well he performs.    

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President, and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl.